Shelby the Hairy Tornado

Shelby is 10.5 weeks old now.  She has energy that my ‘closing-in-on-50-years-old’ body isn’t used to (especially with the disabilities I’ve got).  She IS a hairy tornado.  She wakes me up in the morning by pawing at the inside of the tent she sleeps in (on my bed- to keep her contained and safe, but next to me) to go potty.  She has learned how to paw the zipper from the inside and get the door all the way open- well at least enough to poke her head through, so I can’t dawdle.  I’ll carry her to her potty papers, and insist she unloads both tanks before moving on to feed her (I keep a baby gate up until she’s done).  Otherwise, it’s like a Tootsie Roll dispenser malfunctioned and left ‘gifts’ in a trail on the floor.  She’s a mobile pooper.  According to the puppy training information, she’s doing well.  She gets it right about %80 of the time already; the info says that most pups aren’t totally trained until they’re 6 months old.  In the meantime, there are barricades all over my apartment, and I bring her to her papers about every hour, when she wakes up after a nap, or after a period of psychotic playing.

She’s into the piranha-teeth phase now.  One of her favorite activities is to sink those sharp little puppy teeth into the back of my fuzzy slipper and just hang on for a couple of steps. Then she waits to sink those teeth into the other one. Walking (for me) has become a hazardous situation. So, I shuffle.  I look like some sort of deranged Parkinson’s patient with a short,hairy stalker behind me. And she follows me everywhere ! The puppy training info tells me that ‘communicating’ with her as her fur-mom would do is the way to go… growling an intense and definitive ‘no’ growl is what she’ll understand.  What I understand is that I look like an idiot.  I don’t have a good growl. Go figure. I don’t even holler/yell all that well.

Her ‘guard dog’ attributes need a lot of work.  She barks when someone is leaving. When my dad came over yesterday, he took off his coat and hung it on the back of one of my dinette set chairs.  OK. No problem. Once Shelby got some love from her grandpa in the form of ear scratching, she turned around and eyeballed his coat (the only different thing over there), and proceeded to bark at it until she got up enough courage to slowly approach the ‘dangerous’ coat and give it a good sniff. Then she was fine. But barking once someone is already inside and comfortable enough to remove their coat is a bit backwards from alerting me when they’re trying to enter. Granted, I let him in.  But she’s done this with a friend who was here… let her come right in, but then gave her the business when she was getting ready to leave.  Uh huh.  She’s a scary one!  But I can’t bark at all, so I guess she’s one up on me there.

Then there are the times when she is just too sweet for words. She must sleep near me during the day (her ‘rule’, not mine). She has her own recliner with a soft comforter, but she’d rather sleep on the floor under the leg part of my recliner when it’s up, or next to my recliner on the floor.  If my feet are on the floor, she sleeps between them with her head on top of one foot.  When I pick her up to move her, she just lays in my arms, limp, and lets me do whatever I want to her. She’ll sleep on her back like a baby in my arms to the point when she’s dreaming and twitching. She is very trusting, and as long as she’s able to sleep near or on me, she’s content.  During the first part of the day, if I’m still worn out from an interrupted night’s sleep, I’ll let her play like a maniac until she wears herself out, and then haul her fuzzy butt back to my bed, put her back into her tent, and we both get another hour or two of sleep.

Shelby is  a kisser. When she’s on my lap, she loves to stand up and slurp my face.  Her tail is also semi-motorized, and moves so fast it’s hard to see the actual movement.  It’s just a little black blur on her butt.  And it’s in motion a lot!  She seems to be very happy just about all of the time (unless she’s trying to figure out why I’m growling at her).  It’s sweet to see how curious she is about everything, and that simple things give her joy.  All people should be so content with their lives.

The puppy stage lasts a good year to year and a half.  We’re only two months in.  I love her like crazy, and I’m worn out !  I look forward to watching her grow and learn things she needs to know to be a safe, civilized dog.  In the meantime, I am the hairy tornado monitor, pee pad changer, food dispenser, belly scratcher,  and toy cleaner-upper.  And I wouldn’t trade that for anything 🙂

Sleeping in any position

Sleeping in any position

Killing her toys...

Killing her toys…

In one of her toy bins...

In one of her toy bins…

Missing Mandy

My schnauzer, Mandy, died 3 days ago.  It feels like she’s been gone for months, yet there are little things that remind me of her so many times during the day- I expect to see her.  She had her little quirks and eerie understanding of what I told her.  I expect to look up and see her on her ‘TV bed’ (large dog pillow under the TV), watching me.  Every time I moved, she looked up. If I left the room and didn’t say “I’m coming back”, she’d follow me.  It was a relationship with a dog unlike others I’ve had.  Each was special and very loved (as I know the next one will be), but Mandy was smart in the way she understood what I said.  When I got up in the morning, she waited to see if I was getting my slippers on before she got up- she knew that if I was still barefoot, I was coming back- but if she saw the slippers hit my feet, she’d walk down her little dog stairs and be up for the day.

When I sneeze, there’s no little head popping up as she immediately got up and left the room. I couldn’t even say the word ‘sneeze’ or she’d leave the room!  But after I sneezed, she’d come back to see if I was still there!  When I was doing her laundry the other day, there was no little nose checking out the dryer. She especially loved the lint trap. I have no idea why- it’s not like she ever saw what I pulled off of that thing.  But she knew the sound of the dryer stopping, and would get up and look at me like “well, are you going to get the lint?”.   When I loaded the dishwasher, there’s no little face watching, or wildly bouncing around as I shut the dishwasher door.

At night, before bed, I’d tell her to ‘go potty’, and she would!  She would walk over to her pads, and pee.  IF she had ‘gone’ recently, she’d still walk over there, but sit down on the carpet and look at me.  I’d go check the pads, and sure enough- there was a ‘fresh’ pee on the pads.  She knew what I was asking her to do- and letting me know it was already done.

When she was a puppy, I took her to work with me (I had a ‘desk job’ as an RN at a  nursing home, doing assessments for care plans).  As she got older, I’d leave her in the kitchen with a baby gate, and when she was really consistent with using the pee pads, I let her have the run of the apartment when I was gone.  The first time I left her ‘loose’, I had some concerns about what she’d do to my realistic vinyl baby doll collection.  They were seated along the bottom shelves of some book cases.  I dreaded coming home to chewed toes.  Instead, I came home to a pile of baby socks by the back door, and a half-grown dog looking very proud of herself for getting about 20 baby socks off of the dolls and having them neatly piled up.  It was like some sort of offering- LOL.

When I moved from Texas to Illinois, Mandy rode in her travel crate for safety. She was always a good car-rider, lying down on the seat and being content to just be along for the ride (until she got where she was going- usually the vet or groomer).  Because I was driving a 17-foot U-haul for more than 1250 miles, she had to be in her crate, so before leaving Texas, I spent a few months incorporating the crate into her playing.  I’d toss her toys or a dog treat into the crate, and get her used to walking into it on her own. I didn’t want to have battles on the road stuffing her back into it after stopping to let her walk around and go potty.  She did well- and would walk right back into the crate after being out of it at a rest stop. BUT, she did not like when I got out to pump gas and she couldn’t see me.  The crying was horrific.  I was convinced that animal welfare people from many counties near where we were could hear her. I had to pop the gas pump into the tank and set it on ‘auto’, then move back to the truck door so she could see me. Instant quiet.  When I had the nerve to go get some breakfast at a truck stop- and leave her for about 15 minutes to get a TO-GO container (I didn’t even stay inside to eat !), I could hear her ‘screaming’ for me from about 20 yards away from the truck.  She was a ‘mama’s girl’.  I miss that.

At night, if she was ready for bed and I wasn’t, she would get up and sit in front of the hallway, and stare at the bedroom door.  Sometimes she’d go to the bedroom and just wait in the dark for me to find her.  She always had access to the bedroom and bed (and her full half of the double bed), but she wouldn’t go to bed without me.

When she got sicker, and would get cold from losing a fair amount of weight, she’d come over to where I was sitting, and shiver.  I’d get her sweater out, and she’d put her head down so I could slip it over her head.  She also knew to pick up her paws to have them put through the little sleeves.  When I’d take it off, she knew to pick her feet up only after I’d get the sleeve pulled down far enough for her to step out of it.   But she knew that the sweater did something to make her feel better- I’m not sure she understood the concept that a sweater equals ‘warmer’, but she knew enough to come over to me when she wanted it- and then go lie back down once I put it on her.

I cry many times a day when I think about her not being here any longer.  She was with me for eleven years and seven months- I got her when she was almost 2 months old. She would have turned twelve at the end of March.  I hope she knew how much I loved her. I hope she knew that she was my equivalent of a child, and I honestly can’t imagine loving an actual kid any more than I loved that dog.  I hope she knew how much I wanted the best for her- and while I hated watching her die in my arms, I would never want her to die alone and scared.

After the initial whimper that began the end, she was alert enough to look at me (and at that point was motionless, just standing on the floor looking at me with a ‘different’ look- sort of a confused inability to move) and know that I picked her up.  She lifted her head a few times before just collapsing on my lap- but knew I’d put her on her comforter (and a disposable bed pad), and let me shift it to get the ‘lumps’ out.  Then she just wilted and her breathing changed to an agonal pattern associated with imminent death.  I kept stroking her back and scratching her ears, and telling her how much I loved her, and how amazing she’d been as my best friend.  I let her know that it was OK to stop fighting (like I’d do as an RN to humans- I doubt Mandy had a clue what that meant, but I had to say those words as my way of letting her go).  I told her that I’d miss her, but knew she’d hung on as long as she could (and she’d done fairly well – it had been a rocky couple of weeks, but she’d been alert, eating- though more picky, and wanted to be near me).

That morning, she’d wanted Swedish meatballs, and her Charlee Bear treats.  It was a ‘normal’ day- until 2:30 p.m. when I heard the whimper.  By 2:45 p.m., she was gone.  My only form of living companionship was gone.  I know that my next dog won’t replace Mandy (just like she hadn’t replaced her predecessor), but that she will steal my heart in her own way.  And yet, Mandy was special.  Maybe it was the amount of time I’m home, and she just got used to my routines- but her understanding of what I’d say was uncanny. Dad could ask her to do the same things, and she’d just stare at him.  She was my baby.

I miss her deeply… and yet I know the only way through this is to move forward and look at how much I’ll love a new puppy.  Mandy will never be gone from my heart, but it is a deep pain knowing she’s not here ‘in person’.   RIP, my sweet little girl.  I hope you know how much you were loved ❤

Mandy- 20113/28/01 - 12/27/12

Mandy- 2011
3/28/01 – 12/27/12

I Just Want What’s Best For Her…

It’s so hard to know how to read what’s going on with Mandy (my 11.75 year old miniature schnauzer with heart failure).  She’s obviously not feeling well judging by her appetite and resistance to taking her medication (one is chewable, and she usually loves it; the others are pills I put in fruit that she usually snarfs right up). Her breathing isn’t ‘right’, and she’s coughing a little. She’s not peeing as much as she should be- but nothing smells funny or has a dark, concentrated color (she’s paper/pad trained, so it’s easy to assess).  And, she’s alert, getting up whenever I move, and doesn’t seem to be in any discomfort. She hasn’t fainted, and her tongue is pink.  Right now, she’s by the front door grumbling about something.  That’s ‘normal’ for her!

I’ve been down this road before. My last schnauzer had heart failure for the last year of her life, and she did quite well until the last couple of days. The only time she didn’t eat was the last 24-36 hours she was alive, and it was horribly obvious that she wasn’t doing well. I tried the extra doses of the medicine to help her get rid of extra fluid, but it was over. (I’d made a mental list of ‘it’s done’ symptoms to watch for).  It was- thankfully- fairly ‘quick’ at the end. The signs were easier to see.  I got her to the vet, who tried to turn things around, but he called me at work to let me know I need to come quickly. With Mandy, it’s harder.  Regardless, she has to go to the vet tomorrow to get checked out.

My dad and I have a ‘plan’  (God bless him – he’s 80 years old, and such a huge support, and he loves his ‘grand-dogger’). If I think I’m going to have to put Mandy to sleep tomorrow (not thinking that at the moment, but things are going back and forth a lot this weekend), he’ll drive and then take me to the pet crematorium.  If she seems like she’s doing fairly well, and just going to be seen by the vet, I’ll take her myself.  She’s good in the car (and loves car rides until she gets where she always goes- the groomer or the vet).  If something happens quickly tonight, and God forbid, she dies, he’ll take me to the pet crematorium. I’ll be a wreck.  The idea of putting her into a box to go to ‘that place’ breaks my heart.  I know she won’t know the difference at that point, but I will.  She’s been too good of a companion to put into a box for any reason. If there’s any way to keep her just wrapped in a blanket, that would be much better.  Even if it’s just for a 4 mile trip.  Even if it’s just because I can’t stand the idea of her being ‘disregarded’ by being in an ordinary box.

I’ve been through this before. I survived, and got another puppy who stole my heart all over again.  I can’t afford a schnauzer (which has been my favorite dog since I was a little kid), but my dad said he’d be sure I got the puppy I want, since he’s very aware that being on disability and having very little contact with people makes the companionship all that more important.  I’ve got my name on a schnauzer rescue list, and got an e-mail with 3 available, and very adorable, puppies just yesterday.  But, I won’t get another one until Mandy is gone- the stress of a rambunctious puppy probably would be too much for her- she’s never interacted much with other dogs (she hides behind my legs when I take her to the groomer), and gets a bit snooty about them sniffing her back door. She almost seems offended at ‘dog’ behavior :D.  I’m just hoping that Mandy does well enough to indicate she’s still enjoying life for a while to come. I know the outcome of canine heart failure.  I just have to be sure I’m reading her well enough to know when enough is enough.

I know other people love their pets as much as I do.  I think it feels ‘worse’ because I’m alone, and really don’t have contact with any other living thing as much as I do her, since I’m home all of the time. In the last 8.5 years on disability, we’ve been together nearly 24/7 unless I’m in the hospital, at some doctor appointment, or brief trips to the grocery store or pharmacy.  I talk to my dad pretty much every day- which is also really important. But Mandy is my primary source of interaction with anything alive and in ‘person’.  She is also really in tune to my routines, and understands a LOT of what I say (it’s kinda creepy sometimes- LOL).  I’ve never had kids or been married, but I think I can relate to the intense love a parent has for a kid, at least to some degree.  I’d do anything I could for Mandy, and if someone ever tried to harm her, I’d go postal.  And have no regrets.

It’s going to be horribly painful when she no longer has any quality of life.  Once it becomes a struggle for her, or there is any indication of suffering, it’s over.  I won’t put my best friend through anything that prolongs her misery to avoid my grief over losing her.  I know I keep writing about this, but it’s just so hard to think of her being gone.  I don’t mean to sound ‘dismissive’ when I talk about another puppy before Mandy is gone, but it’s how I keep my mind from being totally overwhelmed by grief.  The circle of life and all of that.  Knowing I’d get another puppy (Mandy) after my last dog died really helped me look forward, and not stay stuck in the crying part of acute grieving.  I could find some joy in a new ‘baby’.  I bought toys every payday until Mandy was old enough to come home. She  has an obscene number of stuffed animals now, most of which she ignores, so the new puppy will have a lot to play with as well.

Find Mandy !  She has about 10 times more toys now !!

Find Mandy ! She has about 10 times more toys now !!

As with anything in life, I can’t predict when Mandy will be too sick to ‘make’ her keep going, and I’ll have to let her go.  So, I have to keep myself prepared, and try and make her life the best it can be during the time she has left.  I also have to enjoy all of the time she has left.  Yes, I need to keep being realistic, but also can’t have her half gone while she’s still here!  I know I’ll love another puppy intensely, but right now it’s hard to imagine loving anything as much as I love Mandy. She has been such an important part of my life.  My primary goal is to give as much as I can to her for as long as she’s around. And know when the time comes to give her the final gift of no suffering.

Mandy in her sweater- 2012

Mandy in her sweater- 2012

In the meantime, I’ll probably keep writing.  I’ll keep having times when I’m in tears, and standing in the laundry area of my apartment so nobody can hear me cry when the spin cycle is going.  I’ll be a wreck after she’s gone. And I’ll love every minute I can still see her sweet face looking at me while she’s still here. ❤

My Crazy, Amazing Schnauzer Mandy

Since my  11 1/2 year old miniature schnauzer was diagnosed with heart failure about six months ago, I find myself looking at her and thinking how blessed I am to have gotten her. As in the very specific and individual her. When I got her, my previous schnauzer had been gone a relatively short period of time. She too had heart failure, and had been put to sleep while in my arms, after a good year of treatment. But her time had come, and the decision was ‘easy’. She couldn’t go on; she was actively dying and struggling. I had already decided to get another dog; being single, I loved the companionship.  I finally found a breeder a couple of hundred miles away in Houston, TX, and contacted her. The arrangements were made that I’d get a female salt and pepper puppy with her next litter, that was due soon. But she needed to be seven weeks old before the breeder would send any puppies to their new homes. I didn’t get to see Mandy before I made the 9-hour round trip to get her, so had to rely on the breeder to pick out my new ‘baby’.

When I first saw her, the breeder was in her front yard, holding Mandy and talking to some guys working on her roof.  Mandy had a bright pink bandana around her neck, and weighed less than three pounds. She was about 6-7 inches tall when she was sitting.  I was instantly in love 🙂  I had to drive through Houston traffic to get home, and during most of that time while still in Houston, I was trying to keep Mandy in the clothes basket lined with a quilted cat bed. She wanted to be in my lap, but I didn’t want to take the chance of her getting hurt, or deciding to explore the car while on I-10, and in 5 lanes of cars.  Finally, somewhere near Katy, TX she settled down and fell asleep.  The drive home was otherwise uneventful.

From the get-go, she was a mama’s girl.  I’d taken vacation time from work when I got her, so had a week home to get her used to being with me. She slept under a clothes basket, on a waterproofed cloth pad, next to me on my bed. Initially, the clothes basket had been right-side up, but the 3rd morning, I heard a little bark next to the bed. She had jumped off of my bed, and was on the floor looking at me. I was scared she’d get hurt. So, I flipped the basket over, and she’d crawl under it every night. If she needed to use her papers in the middle of the night, she’d cry a little, waking me up.  During the day, she slept between my left shoulder and collarbone, curled up.  She’d suck on my earlobe at times, making weird little puppy noises.

I had a desk job as an RN, so I was able to bring her to the nursing home where I worked for several weeks. She stayed in her crate under my desk, and visited with the residents periodically.  The socialization was good for her, most of the residents loved her,  and I loved knowing she was nearby. The first time I left her home in the kitchen I was so sad. I knew she’d be fine with her bed, toys, pee pads, and food and water bowls, but I hated leaving her. The first time I left her home with the run of the place (after she’d shown consistency with using the pee pads), I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I got home. I have a realistic baby doll collection, and they were on shelves where their feet were very accessible. I feared coming home to toeless dolls. What I found was a pile of baby socks by the back door, and all toes intact. She hadn’t hurt them- just removed ALL of their socks. 🙂

Over the years, I realized that Mandy has some odd quirks.  She loves appliances, especially the dishwasher and clothes dryer. When I remove lint from the lint trap she gets so excited!  She actually pays attention to when the dryer turns off, and gets up to trot on over to where it is, looking at me as if to say “Well, get moving! We have lint!”. She also hates when I sneeze, and if I say I’m going to sneeze, she leaves the room.  She understands an eerie number of words. It freaks my dad out a bit. When he tells her the same things, she blows him off. If I tell her to do something, she’s amazing. She does not like the digital camera at all, and leaves the room if I take it off of the charger.  Taking photos of her is a nightmare. She wasn’t like that with my old 35mm SLR, and I can only think that the little noises the digital camera makes must be what bugs her.

Mandy, age 11
Nothing like some good cataracts !

As she’s gotten older, she’s not as good with ‘hygiene’, so I’ve started getting her groomed in a very short cut, leaving only a schnauzer face. It’s either that or use baby wipes on her girly parts to keep her clean.  She also leaks a bit if she doesn’t use her pee pads before bed, so I tell her to ‘go potty’ before turning in for the night, and she will.  She’s rather private about the whole thing, and it’s good that the linoleum entry way is behind a partial wall, or she’d sulk.  She also farts more as she’s gotten older, and I find it all very amusing. She can be in a nice sleep on one of her many places to nap, and suddenly be airborne, landing on her butt and staring at it as if something must be there violating her back door. Then she looks at me in a somewhat accusatory way.  She is fond of simethicone gas pills (for people), and if I ask her if she needs a gas pill, she very eagerly comes over and gets one. I saw the same ingredient  in dog gas pills at a pet store, so I know it’s safe.

Over the past six months, she’s had some fainting episodes that break my heart. When Mandy gets overly excited, and hyperventilates, she tips over- out cold- and lets out some deep cries that sound just agonizing.  Yet, she recovers quickly and goes on about her day.  Last Friday, she had one of these episodes while moving around in bed, so no activity preceded it. That bothers me a lot.  This week, she went to the vet to get some blood work done to check to see how her kidneys are handling the diuretic (water pills) she needs to keep her lungs less congested.  That came back normal, so there’s a good chance she will do well for many months to years.  Her heart failure was caught earlier than her predecessor, so that is good.  She likes taking her pills, as I stuff them in pieces of freeze dried mandarin oranges. If I ask if she needs her pills, she heads for the kitchen where I keep them.

But I know what’s coming. I know the time will come when her breathing takes too much effort to make it humane to keep her with me, and that breaks my heart. Each of my three dogs (starting when I was an 8 year old kid) has been special in her own way, and I missed the last two terribly when they died. But being home 24/7 because of various disabilities has created a different bond with this one. Mandy is THE living thing I see the most.  She’s the one I communicate with more than any human.  She understands a lot of what I tell her to do, and has the goofy quirks that have endeared her to me very deeply.  I have been making a mental list of things that signal that it’s no longer right or fair to make her keep going.  So far, she’s nowhere close to any of them.  But when the time comes, I must do what is best for her, as much as it will hurt. And I’ll get another schnauzer. NO dog could ever replace Mandy (or the ones before her), but each has soothed the wound of grief a bit, and quickly made her own way into my heart.